Superphysics Superphysics
Chapters 1-3

The Spirit of Commerce and Two Types of Poor

by Montesquieu Icon
3 minutes  • 450 words
Table of contents

Chapter 1: How Commerce Improves and Corrupts Morals

Commerce is a cure for the most destructive prejudices.

  • whereever we find agreeable manners, there commerce flourishes
  • wherever there is commerce, there we meet with agreeable manners.

Our manners are now less savage because of commerce. It has everywhere diffused a knowledge of the manners of all nations. These are compared one with another, and from this comparison arise the greatest advantages.

Commercial laws improve manners, for the same reason as they destroy them. They corrupt the purest morals as complained by Plato, yet we see that they polish and refine the most barbarous.

Chapter 2: The Spirit of Commerce

Peace is the natural effect of trade. Two nations who traffic with each other become reciprocally dependent because if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling. Thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities.

But if the spirit of commerce unites nations, it does not unite individuals in the same way. In purely commercial countries, they make a traffic of all the humane and moral virtues: the most trifling things, those which humanity would demand, are there done, or there given, only for money.

The spirit of trade produces a certain sense of exact justice.

On one hand, this sense is opposite to robbery. On the other, it is opposite to those moral virtues:

  • which forbid our selfishness and
  • cause us to neglect our private interest for the advantage of others

The total loss of trade produces robbery.

Aristotle ranks robbery as a means of acquiring. Yet it is not at all inconsistent with certain moral virtues. Hospitality, for instance, is rare in trading countries but is perfected in among nations of vagabonds.

Tacitus says that it is a sacrilege for a German to shut his door against anyone. A person, who shows hospitality to a stranger, shows him another house where this hospitality is also practised. He is there received with the same humanity.

But when the Germans had founded kingdoms, hospitality was become burdensome. This appears in two laws of the Burgundians:

  • One inflicted a penalty on every barbarian, who presumed to show a stranger the house of a Roman.
  • The other decreed, that whoever received a stranger should be indemnified by the inhabitants, every one being obliged to pay his proper proportion.

Chapter 3: The Poor

THERE are two kinds of poor:

  1. Those who are rendered such by the severity of the government

These cannot do great action because their indigence is a consequence of their slavery.

  1. Those who either despise, or know not the conveniencies of life

They can do great things because their poverty constitutes a part of their liberty.

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